Ecobank’s Biggest Shareholder Says It Has Reservations About CEO

South Africa’s Public Investment Corp., the biggest shareholder in Ecobank Transnational Inc. (ETI), said it has concerns about the pan-African lender’s chief executive officer, Thierry Tanoh.

“We have reservations about Thierry Tanoh,” PIC Chief Investment Officer Daniel Matjila said in a phone interview. The PIC, which owns more than 18 percent of Ecobank, according to the Lome, Togo-based lender, is concerned about performance under Tanoh, Matjila said, without being more specific.

Tanoh said he was in a meeting when called today and asked to be called back in a few hours. Mwambu Wanendeya, a spokesman for Ecobank, declined to comment.

Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission investigated Ecobank after Laurence do Rego, the company’s former executive director of risk and finance, told the regulator in August that Tanoh and former Chairman Kolapo Lawson planned to sell assets below market value. Do Rego said she was pressured to write off debts owed by a business headed by Lawson and manipulate the bank’s results. Both Tanoh and Lawson deny any wrongdoing.

Despite its reservations about Tanoh, Matjila said the Pretoria, South Africa-based PIC will support the creation of an interim board of directors that includes the CEO. Shareholders will vote at a meeting on March 3 on the proposal for a seven-member interim board, which will implement recommendations on corporate governance made by the SEC.

“We want a board that can work and move forward, so we are willing to make a concession with him on the interim board,” said Matjila, who will also be on the board.

Interim Board

The interim board will hold office until the company’s annual general meeting, which will probably be in May or June, according to Ecobank spokesman Wanendeya.

The interim board would also include Chairman Andre Siaka and representatives of the International Finance Corp., Asset Management Corp. of Nigeria and Ecowas Bank for Investment and Development, according to a notice on Ecobank’s website.

The IFC holds about 6 percent of Ecobank directly and a further 8 percent indirectly, Wanendeya said. Nigeria’s AMC owns about 8.6 percent.

Nedbank Group Ltd. CEO Mike Brown yesterday said the South African lender controlled by Old Mutual Plc would consider governance issues before deciding whether to exercise an option to buy a stake in Ecobank. Nedbank has until the end of November to convert the $285 million loan it made to Ecobank in 2011 into an equity holding and then increase the stake to as much as 20 percent.

Chairman Retired

Ecobank shares rose 2.9 percent to 14.2 naira at yesterday’s close in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos. The stock has climbed 2.8 percent over the past 12 months compared with a 10 percent decline in Nigeria’s 10-company NSE Banking index.

Lawson, who retired on Dec. 31, said in October that he was stepping down to end uncertainty and “media speculation” over Ecobank.

Founded in 1985, Ecobank operates in France and 35 African countries and has representative offices in Beijing, Dubai and London. Ecobank reported in October that profit increased 65 percent to $250 million in the nine months through September as its businesses in Nigeria and Ghana expanded.

To contact the reporter on this story: Janice Kew in Johannesburg at jkew4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Celeste Perri at cperri@bloomberg.net; Vernon Wessels at vwessels@bloomberg.net

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